Bleeders (1997)

In the 1980s and 1990s, stories by H.P. Lovecraft were mostly adapted into B-horror movies that had difficulties conveying the intense atmosphere of pessimism and existential dread inherent to many of his works onto the screen. They would usually fill this gap with an excess of gore effects, and the majority of them turned out to be reasonably entertaining. Two positive outliers from that period were Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and Dan O’Bannon’s The Resurrected.

O’Bannon also co-wrote the script for Bleeders (aka Hemoglobin), which was an adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s lesser known stories, The Lurking Fear. Lovecraft often remained purposefully vague about the nature of the supernatural entities in his stories, but not in this one, which made it more suited to be adapted into a traditional monster horror movie than many of his other works.

John and his wife Kathleen travel from Paris to a North American coastal town, where John seeks to unravel some mysteries regarding his heritage and the rare blood disease he suffers from. Upon their arrival, John experiences grueling visions, people disappear near grave sites, and tremors are shaking the earth. As John and Kathleen intensify their search, they discover a shocking secret buried deep underground that threatens the life of all villagers.

The unseen dangers and terrors lurking below the earth have always been a popular element of horror fiction, and Lovecraft’s story strongly capitalized on this theme. And while Bleeders takes many liberties with its source material, it remains rather faithful to the overall tone of its template. A desolate Canadian fishing village provides a suitable melancholic backdrop with its ancient houses that are moldy and worn out by the elements. An uncanny atmosphere permeates the film, and in that respect Bleeders succeeds in re-creating the classic Lovecraftian vibe at least to some extent, and functions without cheap jump scares for the most part.

The film has a couple of issues, though, that are not necessarily caused by its low budget. The dramatic structure of the film as a whole is rather anemic, and especially the finale is tedious and chaotic. The dialogues are also a bit clunky, and I think it’s fair to say that this script was not Dan O’Bannon’s finest hour as a screenwriter. The monsters look disgusting and deranged with a lust for extremely bloody killings, but do not come across as overly terrifying as the film progresses.

The acting often is also quite low-key with mostly one-dimensional and uninteresting characters, but two notable exceptions. Roy Dupuis as central protagonist John gives a thoroughly weird performance and starts to get seriously creepy as the movie progresses. Rutger Hauer never failed to do a decent job even in low-budget flicks, and in Bleeders he leaves a good impression as melancholic but resolved village doctor.

Bleeders is very rough around the edges and suffers from a lackluster direction. It’s certainly one of the more average Lovecraft adaptations, but overall decent enough to make it worth at least one watch for horror movie fans.

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